US sanctions top spyware maker over claims it targeted thousands of Americans

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The US government has sanctioned Intellexa Consortium, the company which developed and sold the notorious Predator spyware.

The group consists of Intellexa S.A. (Greece), Intellexa Limited (Ireland), Cytrox AD (North Macedonia), Cytrox Holdings ZRT (Hungary), and Thalestris Limited (Ireland). 

Among the sanctioned individuals are Tal Jonathan Dilian, the group’s founder, as well as Sara Aleksandra Fayssal Hamou, a corporate off-shoring specialist providing managerial services.

Targeting Americans

Commercial malware is usually sold to government agencies around the world, who use it to target political opponents, journalists, human rights activists, and dissidents, the Treasury Department reported. 

In late May 2023, researchers analyzed a sample of the malware, and discovered that it can record audio from phone calls and VoIP apps, and steal data from chat apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram. Although not confirmed, the researchers believe the malware also allows for geolocation tracking, access to camera apps, and tricking the user into thinking the device is powered off (for easier use during the “off” time).

The researchers also said that the list of features is not conclusive and that Predator could be capable of a lot more. The Department of Treasury sanctioned the group mostly because, as it said in the press release, Predator was used to target US government officials, journalists, and activists. 

The sanctions mean all assets belonging to both designated individuals, and companies, are blocked, and must be reported to the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Furthermore, US citizens and companies are not allowed to transact, or do business with, the blacklisted organizations.

The US government has sanctioned multiple companies and individuals involved in the development of commercial spyware, most notably NSO Group, an Israeli start-up that was blacklisted in late 2021 for building Pegasus.

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Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.